- India stands vulnerable to China on Siliguri Corridor
By Haider Abbas
The elections in UP are getting nearer by every passing day. There have been reports of China capitalizing on Arunachal Pradesh border and now in order to irk India, it is leant that China and Bhutan are on-set to make a border agreement which is nothing short of a death blow to India’s interests. As if the ghosts of the 75 days stand-off, between India and China at Doklam (2017) had not as yet fully receded that a new situation has got resurrected, and for sure, India has been certainly caught on the wrong foot. It was in 2017, when India had sent its army to defend Bhutan against China but this time China and Bhutan conducted 24 rounds-of-talks to resolve their 400 kms border dispute and Bhutan did not keep India in a loop! China and Bhutan have no diplomatic relations while India always enjoyed cordial relations with Bhutan.
It is learnt, that too, , from Chinese media, on October 15, that China and Bhutan have ironed-out a Memorandum of Understanding, on a three step-road towards resolving the China-Bhutan boundary negotiations. Its state affiliated media house The Global Times 1 informed ‘ It’s well-known that Bhutan is the only neighboring country that has not established diplomatic relations with China.
Bhutan is located in the southern slopes of the Himalayas. With an area of 38,000 square kilometers and a population of less than 800,000, it is sandwiched between China and India. Bhutan doesn’t have diplomatic relations with China, nor has it established diplomatic relations with any other permanent member of the UN Security Council. This is abnormal. It’s because India has exercised long-term comprehensive control and influence on Bhutan, which has restricted it from developing foreign relations.’
The provocations from China are therefore going-on unabated. This time China has literally hit on the jugular vein of India as the strategic-location of Bhutan is just pretty near to the seven-sister-states, Indian North Eastern region, which China has been eyeing on. It was only the last week of September that China had sent around 100 of its soldiers into Uttarakhand, tells Economic Times 2, has already warned India to ward-off from Arunachal Pradesh and ranged India towards a two and a half front war in the past one week, which was reported through The Global Times 3 and China has also released images of Indian soldiers ‘beaten-blue’, while building the tempo on Arunachal Pradesh, purportedly from the Galwan valley clash which saw 20 Indian soldiers dead in 2020.
India, as expected, has forwarded a guarded response by ‘taking-note’ of China-Bhutan developments. How come India just slept over, in the last four years, and let this bonhomie crystallize when it was India which had sent its army to defend Bhutan? China had withdrawn then but came back with a fresh salvo.. This is what may be termed as the biggest shock which China has given to India. This three-step-road map is now a deal finalized which is to make India have sleepless nights, as the prime objective of China is the Siliguri corridor more politically pronounced as the chicken-neck-corridor.
It may also be known that Bhutan, through its Foreign Ministry 4, announced that the MoU – which is not yet public – would be exchanged between two sides through diplomatic channels. This is a clear signal that China and Bhutan might forge diplomatic relations in near future, as previously all communication is channeled through their missions in New Delhi. In a supposedly hawkish news outlet from China, Cnhubei 5, it has been deliberated as to how Bhutan has given a blow to India, that ‘the border agreement between Bhutan and China touched the nerves of separation of Northeast India. Northeast India borders China, Bhutan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, and is connected to mainland India through the long and narrow Siliguri Corridor. Northeast India is also a must pass through the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor. One of the so-called “Arunachal Pradesh” has never been recognized by China.’ China calls Arunachal Pradesh as South Tibet.
No sooner the agreement was inked, the world has started to speculate its implications as an article by Amar Diwakar, in TRTWorld 6 debated, China’s Chumbi Valley, north of the Doklam plateau, and India’s Siliguri Corridor, south of Doklam, are strategic mountain chokepoints critical to both China and India as the ethnically-Tibetan Chumbi Valley, described as the most strategically important real estate in the Himalayas, gives Beijing the ability to cut off the 24-km-wide Siliguri Corridor between Nepal and Bangladesh, which connects New Delhi to its northeastern states.’
China has totally outscored India and the visit of PM Narendra Modi to Bhutan in June 2020 have not yielded any results. India doling of packages to Bhutan succumbed to China’s financial power and influence in the region and now what India wants desperately is that the deal is scraped which is very unlikely to be. China is now almost in a war-mode with India in Eastern Ladakh and other border areas alongside Pakistan as both the countries have a convergence of ‘interests’, while India stands alone to US help as India has also antagonized Russia, after it joined QUAD, despite Russia’s displeasure.
The tactical advantage to China will be immense once it controls Doklam which is susceptible to be used against India on its Chicken-neck-corridor, as very soon China is expected to bring its construction, army infrastructure, radar and air defense system etc and it was for this prime reason that India had deployed its army for 75 days but now it lies asunder! China has now befriended Bhutan which was always against it forcing India to face a new consequence, as India which is already hamstringed in Kashmir over Pakistan, from a pretty long time, is not to be that easily in a position to attack the Kashmir part inside Pakistan, as China intends to carry through it, its most ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which India and US had never wanted to succeed.
The results of this Bhutan bungling are surely to impact the poll prospects of BJP in the coming UP elections 2022 as BJP has made India too dwarfed on the foreign front polity. UP is very likely to hold BJP accountable as to how easily could China snatch-the-rug from beneath the feet of India. BJP will have to answer.
The writer is a former UP State Information Commissioner and a political analyst.